ll the recent talk about the different new eReaders misses one crucial point: it is not about the devices, it is about the future of books.
Consider for a second that books haven’t basically changed in the last few hundred years. Even things we take for granted online, like hyperlinks or recommendations do not remotely exist on books today. We use this concepts up until we purchase a book, but as soon as we open it, it’s back to the the 19th century. No wonder millennials don’t read as many books as their parents.
Of course the literary purist in me believes that incorporating technology into books affects the essence of reading. The ability to think, imagine, and contemplate in silence a story, a phrase and, most important of all: an idea. Nevertheless we need to recognize that clinging to the “good old way” is the easiest route to drive that “way” to obsolesce. If you don’t believe me, ask Polaroid and Kodak how the film business is doing.
The new direction digital books will be able to take the reader should be as exciting and unpredictable as the Web browsing ride over the past 15 years. Imagine margin notes that are easily shared with twitter or Facebook, allowing you to experience a book in a social way. All the insights of a book club without the inconveniences. Or maybe being able to jump from the fictional book you’re reading to references of that historical era, or the character’s inspiration or just facts about the author during the the period the book was being written.
Do you think DVD extras are great? Now imagine what authors could package-in with the books. From commentaries to deleted chapters chapters, giving them (and their publishers) the ability to complement a book with whatever they feel will make the content more value, is likely to result in more good than bad.
If you don’t feel compelled to buy any of the current eBook readers, don’t worry. The device that will make your bookshelf look like a vinyl record collection in the eyes of your children is not out yet. The Kindle is not the iPod of ebook readers. It’s the Rio.
The device that is going to bring digital books to the masses is not the one that better recreates the analog experience. It will be the one that remixes sequential printed pages into something made of bits and pixels and gives authors more tools to tell a story.